Saturday, November 17, 2018

The end is near!!


Two priests were fishing on the side of the road one day. They thoughtfully made a sign saying, “The End is Near! Turn around now before it’s too late!” and showed it to each passing car. One driver didn’t appreciate the sign and shouted, “Leave us alone!” The car sped by and then all of a sudden the priests heard a big splash. They looked at each other and the one holding the sign said, “Maybe we should just write ‘Bridge Out Ahead’?”

We find ourselves today in the final weeks of our Church year, and our readings echo the same theme to us, “The end is near!” Next Sunday, we celebrate the Feast of Christ the King, and a week later, the First Sunday of Advent. We will begin again the great cycle that recalls the history of our salvation beginning with the prophets, leading on to the birth of our Savior, recalling His death, His resurrection, His words and His saving deeds. But, before we get there, we’ll spend these days reminding ourselves about endings. The end is near!

The Church gives us this annual cycle not just as a reminder; but in the hopes that we will find ourselves in it. We don’t simply, once again, tell the story of Jesus. Instead, we’re meant to hear that story and realize that it is our story too. We’re meant to live it. We don’t only recall Jesus birth, but Jesus becomes born in us again. We not only recall Jesus suffering and death on the cross, but we see ourselves on that cross with Jesus, we find Him present in the midst of our own suffering, helping us make meaning of it and uniting it to His sanctifying grace. We not only recall that Jesus rose from the dead and returned to the Father in Heaven, but we become resurrected people. We feel that resurrection Jesus offers us in the midst of the struggles of our own lives, we praise God for the gift of the ultimate resurrection when we too will join Him and all who have gone before us in the glory of Heaven. 

Hopefully, we have had some powerful moments of connection with that great story over course of the last year. Today, our Scriptures call us to reflect on that. Just like any journey when we reach our destination, we look back at where we’ve been and evaluate what kind of journey it has been. Today and over the next two weeks we should be asking ourselves: How has this year been? Have our spiritual lives grown in ways we could have never imagined? Or, upon reflection, do we realize that just maybe we haven’t gone anywhere, still stuck in the same spot we were last year? Have we become better people, holier people, more Christ-like people? How has God’s Word, and the Body and Blood of Jesus changed and transformed?

In our First Reading, Daniel recalls some hard times for God’s people. Daniel writes about 500 years before Christ. Wars and distress are all around. In the midst of this turmoil what do we hear from Daniel? Words of doubt, words of fear, words of anger? No, we hear that God will take care of His people. “The wise shall shine brightly…and those who lead the many to justice shall be like the stars forever,” he writes. In the midst of challenge and distress, Daniel calls the people to trust their faith in God and live accordingly. Though wars and disasters whirl around them, God will send them Michael, the Prince and guardian to defend them.

In our Gospel, Jesus, too, speaks about the end times. He also speaks of wars and distress. In the midst of this, the Son of God, will come with power and glory to offer salvation to God’s people. He uses that image of the fig tree pointing out that if we can pay attention to natural signs and adjust our lives accordingly; we should do the same when we see the signs of our salvation. We are called to be alert and active – to be ready – so that when the end comes, our names will be worthy of the Book of Life, and we too will make our way to Heaven.

My friends, today we are called once again to renew our trust in the Lord. As we look back on the past year, we probably have experienced some joys and triumphs, as well as some storms and distress. Our trust tells us that ultimately – whatever the tribulation or the triumph, God is always present with us, God is always leading us and guiding us, and God will always in the end save us.

Today, especially as we receive the Blessed Sacrament, let us again invite Jesus to be born in our hearts and made new. Let us unite all of our struggles, challenges, trials and tribulations with Him on the cross. Let us welcome the newness of life that He offers us through the resurrection both today and at the end of our days. My friends, “Learn a lesson from the fig tree.” Read the signs of our own spiritual lives. And let us pray in trust the words of our Psalm, “I set the LORD ever before me; with him at my right hand I shall not be disturbed.”

May the Lord give you peace.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Giving it all away


A man died suddenly and found himself in front of St. Peter. “Welcome. I just have to take a look in the Book of Life to see if you can enter heaven.” St. Peter shook his head discouragingly. “It doesn’t look too good, my friend. It appears you’ve never done anything for anyone but yourself. You’ve been greedy, selfish, and power hungry. I’m not sure we can let you in.” The man, now worried, said, “How about the time that I came across the woman who was being harassed by a group of bikers? I grabbed a baseball bat, went right up to them and said, ‘Leave the woman alone or you’ll have to deal with me.’” St. Peter looked at the book again and said, “Well that is impressive. But, I don’t see it in my Book. When did that happen?” The man said, “About three minutes ago.”

My friends, it is never too late to give all that we have. We heard in our Gospel passage, “She, from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood.” Today’s Gospel sets two completely different images side-by-side for us. First we see the scribes with their long robes, the many honors they receive, and their great skill at praying, and behind them, rich people making large offerings. The second image is of this woman, a widow, who makes an offering of two small coins worth mere pennies. And because it is easy to overlook a penny lying in the street, it could be easy for the people to overlook this widow and her contribution.

But Jesus focuses our attention on her and her coins because Jesus sees something of His own life in this woman. Jesus says, “She, from her poverty, has contributed all that she had, her whole livelihood.” Or as other translations put it more plainly, “She has given her whole life.” The woman’s gift is a reflection of Jesus own life. She gave everything she had; even those meager coins; and in turn she was blessed by the Lord. Just as Jesus will Himself give His very life for us. It reminds me of a quote of St. Francis of Assisi who said, “Hold back nothing of yourself for yourself, so that He who gave Himself completely to you, may receive you completely.”

In Mark’s Gospel, this story comes just before the events of Holy Week; days before Jesus will give His whole life on the cross. Jesus turns our attention to the woman because in her, as in Jesus, we discover that the Kingdom of God is found not in holding on to what we have, but in letting it all go. As Jesus says repeatedly, “Those who want to save their life will lose it. And those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”

This is a lesson we all need to hear. We may suffer terrible losses that rob us of those we love, like the widow. We may grieve, and we may mourn, we may face every kind of struggle, challenge and strife in life and we may ask ourselves “Why?” But there is only one way through loss – the way of love. The way through our challenges is by opening our hearts; giving ourselves; holding nothing back; surrendering everything to the Lord.

What are we holding on to that is keeping us from completely embracing the Lord and His all in our lives? We can be held bound by past hurts and grudges; by the things we fail to forgive in others, or the forgiveness we fail to seek. We can be held captive by bad relationships, bad habits – the things we know we need to walk away from if we are to be close with Jesus. The answer for us will be simple – open our hands, open our hearts, open our lives – and then just let it all go. It is then that we create a new space in our hearts that can only be filled by the incredible love that God has for each one of us.

The widow today gives us a glimpse of our life in Christ – hands open, giving all that we have, all that we are, so we can gain the glory that only comes from God. We too are called today to find what she found, that all we have comes from God and should be returned to God. Only then will we have life to the full. We too are called to open our hands and release whatever we are grasping; whatever we are holding; to give all that we are and all that we have to Christ. Only then can we gain the Kingdom He has promised.

“Hold back nothing of yourself for yourself, so that He who gave Himself completely to you, may receive you completely.”

May the Lord give you peace.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Won't you be my neighbor?


Our Scriptures today brought to mind a childhood memory. Sing with me if you can: “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood, a beautiful day for a neighbor. Would you be mine? Could you be mine?” My apologies, that song will now be stuck in your head the rest of the day. If you’re like me, you’ll remember that Fred Rogers welcomed so many of us to his neighborhood every day with that song. As a child, like most, I watched Mr. Rogers Neighborhood every day. Over the years not much changed with the show; it was the same house, the same trolley to take you to the world of make believe, all the same cast of characters. And, always the same, simple question: “Won’t you be my neighbor?”

Today, Jesus is posing the same question to us from our Gospel. In today’s passage a scribe asks Jesus one of the most fundamental questions of faith, “Which is the first of all the commandments?” The textbook answer, of course, is to love the Lord our God with all that we are. But, Jesus does’nt stop there. He goes on to give a more practical answer, one that doesn’t merely satisfy the question, but challenges His listeners to expand their vision of that love to understand that loving God means loving your neighbor.

Jesus makes the point that anyone who loves God must also love their neighbor; and that these are virtually one in the same thing. You cannot truly love God unless that love is made visible in our love of our neighbor. Jesus said: “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. [And], you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Jesus challenges a one-dimensional understanding of love that allows religious people to express devotion to God, while ignoring the problems of the real people around them every day. For Jesus, true love has three essential components: the love of God; the love of neighbor; and the love of oneself. The commandment to love your neighbor as yourself presumes that you first love yourself as a beautiful person created in the image and likeness of God. That you see your dignity and beauty as a unique part of what God has created – as unique and beautiful as the oceans, the stars and the sky, the mountains or any other part of the created universe.

Pope Francis, speaking on this same topic, said, “In the middle of the thicket of rules and regulations, Jesus opens a gap that allows you to see two faces: the face of the Father and the face of our brothers and sisters. He doesn't deliver us two formulas or two precepts, but two faces, indeed one face, the face of God reflected in many faces of others, because in the face of each brother and sister, especially in the smallest, the most fragile and the most helpless, the same image of God is present.”

Our world needs this neighborly reminder more today than ever. We don’t have to look further than the ever growing divide between rich and poor, the continuing problem of homelessness, the unjust treatment of immigrants and refugees, the ongoing scourge of racism, prejudice, violence, and war that are so much a part of our world. Not to mention the murder of 11 people praying in a Pittsburgh synagogue last week – all killed simply because of their faith. Ironically, did you know that synagogue is located literally in Mr. Roger’s neighborhood? Fred Rogers lived just a block away from that spot.

Jesus must be wondering what has happened to our neighborhood? To these challenges, the First Letter of John speaks to us, “Those who say, ‘I love God,’ and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.”

My friends, let us pray today that God will shake loose from us any indifference we may feel towards our any of our brothers and sisters; any of our neighbors – especially those who are different from us; especially those whom the world rejects; especially those who are most in need; especially those who are persecuted for any reason. Let us ask God to open our eyes to realize when we see the faces of those around us – all those around us – we really see the face of God. Fred Rogers once said, “We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility. It’s easy to say ‘It’s not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem.’ Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider those people my heroes.” My friends, let us all be heroes. Let us all be neighbors. Because when we reach out to each other, we have the chance to touch the very face of God.

“You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind…You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Won’t you be my neighbor?

May the Lord give you peace.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Mookie Betts and the Kingdom of God


This is a sleepy week for Red Sox Nation – especially after last night’s record setting 7 hour, 18 inning World Series Game. I have to adjust my prediction now to Red Sox in 5 games! My favorite moment of this World Series so far is, actually, not anything that took place on the field, but rather the actions of one player off the field - Mookie Betts. Mookie has had one heck of a season and is on a well-deserved course to be named MVP. But, in addition to his skill as a ball player, I always love to watch the pure joy with which he plays baseball. Watching him is like watching little leaguers in their childlike thrill for baseball. He just seems like a great guy.

That was confirmed this Wednesday. After winning Game 2, Mookie went home to celebrate with friends and family. They had a huge buffet of Dominican food, and Mookie and his friends insisted they could eat the whole countertop full of chicken, steak, rice, beans, vegetables, and flan. They stuffed themselves, but finally they admitted defeat.

That’s when they had the thought, “We should go and give it away the rest.” They recalled the line of people who usually sleep wrapped in blankets, shivering on cardboard boxes, next to Boston Public Library. It was amost 2 a.m. and just 37 degrees out, and Mookie and a friend wrapped themselves in warm clothing and headed out into the night. Grabbing a nearby shopping cart, they loaded it with tin foil trays, plastic silverware, napkins and wet naps, and cases of bottled water. They gently woke a few people to offer them dinner, and within a few minutes close to two dozen men and women were eating. “Thank you so much,” one of them said. “We were hungry all day.”

Mookie declined to comment, and never intended anyone to find out. His friend said, “It was just the right thing to do.” None of the homeless that night recognized Betts. No one cared that he will likely be the MVP, that the Sox won a record 108 games this season and is two wins away from a title. You see, he didn’t act in his capacity as a baseball celebrity. He acted in his capacity as a human being – one who had the choice between doing the right thing and doing the easy thing. He chose the right thing. Betts is baffled by the attention he has received, as he considers it an ordinary act of kindness.

I was thinking of this moment as I reflected on the healing story of blind Bartimaeus in our Gospel today. Of all of the healing stories in the Gospels, this is the only one where we are told the name of the person healed and so that must mean something. Mark gives us the name “Bartimaeus” – a name which is a hybrid of both Aramaic and Greek, and has two different meanings in each.

First the name Bartimaeus in Aramaic means "son of defilement." So, Bartimaeus could be a nickname given to him because he was a blind beggar and popular belief of the time said that blindness was a punishment for sin. On the other hand, the name Bartimaeus in Greek means "son of honor." And so, by giving us this name with its double meaning, Mark is telling us something important. Bartimaeus is supposed to be a man of honor in God’s sight, but is instead being treated as a man of defilement. What Jesus did for him was not simply heal his physical sight but, more than that, Jesus restored his God-given destiny and dignity. “Take courage; get up! Jesus is calling you!” Jesus heals not only Bartimaeus’ eyes, He heals his soul, his dignity, his very humanity.

And, I think, this is the challenge Jesus places in our lives too. In our increasingly fractured world, Bartimaeus is all around us. We encounter Bartimaeus, like Mookie did, in the many homeless and hungry on the streets each day. We see him in the people whose human dignity has been stripped away because of their race, their ethnicity, their political affiliation, their gender, their immigration status, or any of the countless ways our world decides some are unworthy of dignity. Our world today constantly turns people into sons and daughters of defilement; not worthy of our time, our concern, our care, or compassion. But, Jesus once again calls us to open our eyes so that we can see everyone sons and daughters of honor, of dignity, of holiness; worthy of our love and care.

Mookie Betts did such a simple thing this week. He took his excess and gave it to those who had nothing. But far more than food, he gave them dignity as brothers and sisters on the journey. True and lasting healing lies in lifting up hearts that were broken, in reconciling relationships that were shattered, in seeking out forgiveness when we have wronged another, in looking into the eyes of someone that the world has forgotten and saying, “I see you. You have value and dignity. You are loved and treasured in my eyes and in the eyes of God.” How easy it is for us to choose to be healers too – we have the power to heal our world.

“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked Bartimaeus. May our answer be the same as his, “I want to see.” Jesus, Son of David, have pity on us for the times when we have been blinded to your presence around us; especially in those who need to be lifted up the most. Master, we want to see.

May the Lord give you peace.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Mega Billions in the Kingdom of God


By a show of hands, how many us played the Mega Millions this week? Yes, I confess, that I couldn’t resist grabbing a Quick Pick this week too. As we all discovered this morning, none of us won, and now the pot has grown to $1.6 billion. I guess they’ll have to rename it the Mega Billions! I bet as you purchased your one-in-260 million chance of winning, you probably gave some thought to what you would do with the cash. Perhaps pay off some bills, buy a new house or car, start a business, go on some wonderful trips, quit your job. The more philanthropic among you hopefully thought you’d give a nice chunk to St. Margaret’s or other worthy causes. It is easy to think of the “things” that a lot of money could do in our lives, but, I wonder, do you think that winning would make your life happier?

I came across a study of more than 3,000 lottery winners that asked: All things considered, how happy would you say you are? They found that winners were certainly more comfortable than they had been, which makes sense if they don’t have to worry about bills and the like. Surprisingly, though, they did not find any noticeable increase in happiness because of their win. Similarly, Forbes Magazine conducted a study of the happiest professions in the United States. They did not find bankers, business people, or money managers on their list. The happiest people are: artists, teachers, physical therapists, firefighters and the number one spot? Priests!

Last week, I mentioned a quote of Pope Benedict who said, “The world promises you comfort, but you were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness.” Greatness and wealth; greatness and comfort; greatness and power – these are not usually the same things. This question is also at the heart of our Gospel today. Our passage shows us this grab-for-glory by two of the disciples – James and John – who want a privileged place in the Kingdom; one at the right and one at the left of Jesus. They are grabbing for what they believe to be success and greatness – an important position in the Kingdom and the perceived power that comes with it. But, Jesus turns their question on its head, “You do not know what you’re asking,” He tells them. “Whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant, whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all.”

This is a timeless message of the Gospel – greatness is found by being the least; success is found in servanthood. Yet, how often we treat that message as quaint and fail to embrace it. James and John learn the hard way that greatness isn’t determined by accomplishments, wealth, power, or status. The measure of our success and happiness is whether or not we are cooperating with God’s plan. If there is one thing we know for sure, it is this: God created everyone for success. As Pope Benedict said, we are created for greatness. God did not create any one of us for failure. They key is to make our measure of greatness the same as God’s measure.

For most people, as for James and John, success means to be head of the pack. To succeed means to excel. Success is measured by comparing one's achievements against “competitors;” stacking up your wealth against another’s. That’s why James and John go to Jesus and instead of asking that they be granted a place in His kingdom, they ask for prime position; a position of perceived power.

Jesus teaches them a new meaning of success. Success means realizing and fulfilling God's dream for you. There can be no life happier than that. Jesus is inviting us not to compete, but to cooperate with Him. He is inviting us not to plot for conquest, but to learn to listen to the plan that God speaks to our hearts; not to sew divisions based on color, nationality, status or wealth, but to be unified as members of One Body.

James and John today represent the mentality of our world which encourages unbridled ambition, and the ruthless triumph over our rivals, rather than seeking to discern God's will for our lives. It encourages unhealthy competition, rather than cooperation and the contentment of realizing that when we become servant to one another we achieve a greatness that nothing can take away.

God has more than enough dreams to go around, a different dream for everyone here today, a different dream for every single person in the world. Our goal in life should be simply and only this: to discover and live God's dream for us; to serve one another and find greatness in that service. And that, my brothers and sisters, is the only true measure of success, of greatness, and of happiness: what would God have me do? Because if we don’t fulfill God’s dream for us – who will?

“Whoever wishes to be great among you, first among you, will be the servant of all.” And if each of us does that, never mind 260 million-to-one, I guarantee we will all win. May we achieve the greatness that God has dreamed us for.

May the Lord give you peace!

Saturday, October 13, 2018

What are you listening for?


One day, two friends were walking along the crowded streets of a big city. The street was full of the noise of people, cars, buses, construction – the hubbub of city life. Suddenly, one of the friends stopped and said, “Can you hear that cricket?” The other friend said, “You can’t possibly hear a cricket with all this noise.” The man was certain and walked over to a planter along the sidewalk. Pushing aside some branches, sure enough, there was the cricket. His friend was bewildered, “How did you ever hear that?” The man simply said, “My ears are no different than yours. It just depends on what you’re listening for. Let me show you what I mean.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out a handful of change and dropped them on the sidewalk. Immediately, every head within a block turned in his direction. “You see,” he said again, “it just depends on what you are listening for.”

Our Gospel today asks the same question, “What are you listening for?” We heard the rich young man ask Jesus a straight-forward question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus tells him, “Sell what you have, and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” The story ends that “he went away sad, for he had many possessions?” I always feel sorry for this young man. He certainly meant well. He tells us at the outset that he has faithfully observed all of the commandments from his youth. But, what Jesus asks of him is just too much to bear.

Did you know this young man is the only person in the Gospels that we are specifically told refused to follow Jesus once invited. Imagine saying “no” to Jesus invitation in your life. As I said, he meant well, but his trouble was that his possessions meant more to him. What was he listening for? This man was faced with a choice – security with Jesus, or security in the bank; rely on Jesus or rely on wealth. It is a human predicament that we’ve all felt at one time or another, and the sad situation of this passage is that the young man chose to listen to the voice of the world instead of the voice of the Lord.

And of course the passage reaches out to us today too and asks, “What voice are we listening to?” What is holding us back from following Jesus? What is it that’s causing us to drag our feet? Could it also be money? Maybe not the money we need to live, but perhaps a dishonest way of making it, a habit of cheating, or overcharging, or stealing that has found its way into our lives? Could it be our need for the best of possessions in life? More possessions in our lives? The newest gadget? The name brand?

Maybe it isn’t money or possessions for us at all. It could be something else – it could be the grudges we refuse to let go of; the forgiveness we fail to seek out or to offer to others; maybe it’s the indifference to the struggles of others. You see, to follow Jesus is to follow in love. “Love one another, just as I have loved you,” He told us. Perhaps what is keeping us from following Jesus is a spirit of negativity or judgment, an attitude that always finds the worst in others; a tongue that is always quick to cut down. It could be as simple as laziness – being too lazy to care; too lazy to say our prayers; too lazy to make a difference to anyone.

I wonder sometimes what happened to the rich young man. Did he become a rich old miser? Did his money make him happy? Did he lose it all along the way? Jesus visited him and invited him into the wonder of a life lived for Christ – a life that makes a difference; a life that matters. He walked away. He missed the chance to do good; to reach out to people; to serve Jesus in the world as His follower. Imagine if our spiritual heroes and heroines had made the choice. What if St. Paul had said no; or St. Peter or St. Andrew or St. Mary Magdalene or St. Pope John Paul II, St. Mother Teresa, or those holy men and women who Pope Francis declared saints today in St. Peter’s Square – St. Pope Paul VI and St. Oscar Romero. These are women and men whose lives made a real difference in the world because they chose to say yes when Jesus said, “Follow me.”

I recently saw a Mark Twain quote that said, “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born, and the day you find out why.” We are reminded today that Jesus is the answer to the second part. Jesus is the “why” that makes all the difference in our lives. Pope Benedict said, “The world offers you comfort, but you were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness!”

You know, I like to think that the rich young man eventually came to his senses. I like to imagine that after walking away with a sad heart, he realized his mistake and not only returned, but came back running. I like to believe that he changed his mind and made a choice with all of his mind, his heart, and his being – and followed Jesus all the way to the eternity he first asked about. I like to think that he realized the most valuable possession in his life is his faith and the relationship that Jesus invited him into – and that in the end, he made a difference.

So, what are you listening for? What has the greatest hold on your heart? May we too be possessed by nothing more than our love of God, our desire to serve, our hunger for holiness, and our call to make a difference in our world.

May the Lord give you peace.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Who do you say that I am?


One day the famous Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson were on a camping trip. As they lay sleeping one night, Holmes woke Watson and said, “Watson, look up into the sky and tell me what you see.” Watson said, “I see millions of stars.” Holmes asked, “And what does that tell you?” Watson replied, “Astronomically, it tells me that there are millions of galaxies and potentially billions of planets. Theologically, it tells me that God is great and that we are small in comparison. Meteorologically, it tells me that we will have a beautiful day tomorrow. And what does it tell you Holmes?” To which Holmes answered, “It tells me that someone stole our tent.”

A simple question can elicit very different answers. In our Gospel today, Jesus asks a simple question, “Who do you say that I am?” Up to this point in Mark’s Gospel there have been many answers to that question. They have said, “Who is this that even wind and sea obey him?” They said, “He is possessed.” They said, “Is this not the carpenter, the son of Mary?” They said, “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead,” or “He is Elijah.” They have had many answers.

Up until now, they haven’t quite gotten a handle on just who Jesus really is. Jesus asks, “Who do you say that I am?” and all of heaven is silent, listening intently to how they will answer. And when Peter answers, “You are the Christ,” the angels are dancing and the heavenly choir is resounding, the saints in glory are cheering and the confetti is flying. They get it! They see Jesus as He is. “You are the Christ.”

And this question of who Jesus is reflects right back to us today. Understanding who Jesus is, tells us who we are. Jesus asks, “Who do people say that I am?” because what He really wants to get at is – once you know who I am, who are you? What are you about? His words are not academic or theological, they are relational and loving. And, today they are meant for us to think about who Jesus is and in turn, who are we and what are we about as people who follow Him?

The point is that recognizing who Jesus is – “You are the Christ” – must have consequences to who we are and how we live and how we view the rest of the world. Everything in our lives flows from that recognition of who Jesus is for us. It calls us to spread our faith; to live a life of love and joy, compassion and caring – to a degree that the world has never seen before; to not do just “enough” but to do the extraordinary – in and with and through Christ! The answer to that simple question will make all the difference in our lives and in the life of the world.

Mark told us today that Jesus asked His question in Ceasarea Philippi; a city marked by devotion to false gods. It is there that Jesus asks His most important question. He didn’t ask in the Temple; or after a reading from Isaiah pointing to the Messiah. He asks, who do you say that I am, in the midst of a place that worships everything except the One True God. It is there, that He says essentially, now is the time to make a choice. In the midst of all of these competing things; these competing gods; these competing idols that surround you – who will you say – here – that I am? And who will you choose to be because of Me?

This question of our identity as followers of Jesus, and as His church, could not be more important than it is right now. After all, scandal arises when who we say we are and what we do are at odds with each other. We find ourselves in this challenging moment precisely because people who said they follow Jesus acted in ways that couldn’t be further from Him. And in the midst of this moment surrounded by false Christians because of scandal, Jesus asks the question again – who do you say that I am?

There are many people, maybe some of us, who ask in the light of scandal what does it mean to be a Catholic? What is my identity as a member of this church? Pope Francis speaking in Sicily today said, “Life speaks louder than words. The person who witnesses to hope does not indicate what hope is, but who hope is. Christ is our hope.”

My friends, as we seek to call the church once again to holiness, let us remember that Jesus is asking us today the same old question: who do you say that I am? I pray that our response will be generous and courageous, that it will be compassionate and prophetic. Generous in showing love to everyone. Courageous in standing up for justice everywhere – especially for those who are victims. That it will be compassionate in the way we deal with those who have been wounded by our world, even wounded by members of the church. That we will be prophetic in our proclamation of the Gospel so that the world will once again know clearly who we are as followers of Jesus, and what we stand for. That this scandal does not make our faith, or our church, irrelevant – in fact, it makes it needed more than ever.

I pray that when tempted to walk away, we instead roll up our sleeves and fight for what we believe in, fight for who we are because of our faith in Jesus, fight for the church – from the Pope to us in the pews – to be true to who we say we are by what we say and do.

Lord Jesus, you are the Christ, the One who has come to save the world. In Your love, You have called us and saved us. Let us be true to Your word, true to Your Gospel, so that all who see us will see You. Renew us today in Your love. Renew us today in Your mission. Renew us today, Lord, in Your word, so that what we say and what we do reflect only You and Your love for the world. May we stand for holiness, goodness, truth, and justice, and may Jesus strengthen us so that our lives will speak louder than our words.

Who do you say that I am? You are the Christ.

May the Lord give you peace.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Be opened! Be healed!


We hear today one of the most truly amazing healing stories in all the Gospels. “People brought to [Jesus] a deaf man. He took him off by himself, put his finger into the man’s ears and said to him, ‘Ephphatha!’ -  that is, ‘Be opened!’ - And immediately the man’s ears were opened.” Whenever I hear this miracle story, I can’t help but think about an incredible miraculous moment in my own life.

From about the age of 10, I had a problem of recurrent fluid build up in my inner ear that left me nearly 100% deaf in my left ear. I had surgery to remove the fluid a few times, but it would always inevitably return. It was one of those things that over time you just learn to live with and so I spent a lot of time making sure people were on my right side – my good ear – and would say, “Could you repeat that?” an awful lot! Basically, I never thought that the situation would change, and I had simply grown comfortable with my lack of hearing.

But, then, a little more than 10 years ago, I was stationed in a parish in Connecticut, and we got word that a woman by the name of Vicka would be in the area, and wanted to come visit our Franciscan parish. Vicka is one of the visionaries who believe that the Blessed Mother appeared to them beginning in the 1980s in a place called Medjugorje in what is now Bosnia-Herzegovina. Now, please know that the Church has not yet ruled on the validity of these apparitions and I’m not claiming to do so today, but this is a place that I have visited a few times, and a place where I find the presence of God and His Blessed Mother to be very powerful.

So, Vicka, in addition to receiving these apparitions is also known to have a gift of healing. Since she was in the area of our parish visiting friends, she offered to come to our parish and pray over anyone who was sick. We assembled different people that we knew could use prayer – a young person who was very ill, the wife of our deacon who was suffering from cancer, and others, for example. When Vicka came, we thought that she would pray only over the sick, but we were all gathered in a circle and she just moved person to person, praying over everyone. As she approached me, she simply placed her hand on my head and prayed silently. She didn’t say a word, but just prayed for a bit in her simple, humble, and quiet way.

Now, I had never even thought about praying for my hearing, and so instead I prayed silently that God would heal anything that needed healing in my life. I prayed that He would strengthen me in my priestly vocation. And, I prayed, as I always did, that my Dad would one day desire to be baptized. As she prayed over me, her hand gripped my head tightly, and I felt a pop in my ear, much like the pop you feel when coming down from a high altitude, but I didn’t think much of it. I was simply caught up in what was a beautiful, prayerful evening, and before you knew it, everyone went home, and I went off to bed.

But, the next morning I nearly jumped out of my bed when my alarm went off. And it wasn’t because I was running late. You see, I was laying on my good ear, which meant I normally would only hear the alarm as from a distance, but instead it was as though the volume was on 11! Shaken, I got up and took my shower, and I’ll never forget the sensation of hearing the water as it fell from my head over my “bad” ear. It was suddenly dawning on me that something was different. I kept covering my good ear to test and could not really believe that I could hear. Once I was dressed, I ran to the kitchen where Fr. Mike was, covered my good ear, and said, “Talk.” Of course, I could hear every word he said clearly. It had been healed, and it was among the most joyful moments I can recall in my life.

“[Jesus] said to him, ‘Ephphatha!’ – that is, ‘Be opened!’ – and immediately the man’s ears were opened.” I imagine that the deaf man in our Gospel experienced something similar to my experience that morning 10 years ago. Like me, maybe he thought that this was something he just had to live with. Like me, science or medicine didn’t give him his hearing. And, for me, it wasn’t even Vicka that gave me back my hearing as she would be the first to tell you that it isn’t her power that does these things. For both of us, in fact for anyone who experiences healing, it is Jesus who does the work. It is an encounter with the living God that brings miracles into our midst. Because Jesus touched the deaf man, shared his humanity with him, the man’s ears were opened. We heard in Isaiah today, “Be strong! Fear not! Here is your God. He comes to save you. Then will the eyes of the blind be opened, the ears of the deaf be cleared.”

Here is your God. Here is our salvation, told in the story of two deaf men – one in our Gospel and one standing before you. The Gospel story was so amazing that the people who witnessed it couldn’t keep to themselves. That deaf man’s name has been lost to history – even though countless people know his story. But whether we realize it or not, his story is our story; my story is our story.

To all of us who feel isolated, cut off, or living in silence – Christ reaches out. To all of us who feel lonely or different, damaged or confused, to all of us who struggle to understand – Christ bends down and touches us. To all of us who have closed ourselves off from love, from change, from the possibility of miracles – Christ calls out: Ephphatha! Be opened. Even to those of us who feel angry with the church and wounded by her sins – Christ wants to touch us with His healing power so that we can be healed and renew our witness to the Gospel for the world.

This miracle teaches us that an encounter with Jesus brings something we all need, something that I discovered a new on that morning after Vicka’s visit – clarity. It brings understanding. What was muffled becomes clear. Things come into focus make sense. And after letting Christ into our lives, we are finally able to express something that could never quite put into words – that we are made new.

On that morning for me Christ answered two prayers – one I didn’t know I needed like the healing of my deafness; and one that I prayed for – my father did become a Catholic just a few years after that. So, with miracles on our minds, in our hearts, let us again invite Jesus to heal any deafness that hangs over us – anything physical or spiritual that keeps us from hearing His word in our hearts, and speaking His word to our world. The world needs the clarity that comes from living and knowing and proclaiming the Gospel. Even in the midst of scandal, the world needs to hear the loving, compassionate, and healing words of Jesus that only we can proclaim. Sometimes we learn to live with deafness and don’t even seek out its healing because change is hard. But Christ renews His call to each of us today, “Ephphatha! Be opened!” And let Jesus come in. Be opened to God’s presence deep in your hearts. Be opened to what God wants to do in and through and for you. Because if we do – when we do – the result will be nothing short of miracle.

May the Lord give you peace.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Practice what you preach


Practice what you preach. Actions speak louder than words. You have to walk the walk. Practice what you preach. Actions speak louder than words. You have to walk the walk. These are all common phrases that we know. There are many more like them, but they all have the same point – words are not enough. For our words to be true and be believed, they must be followed with action. In our second reading today from St. James, he says essentially the same thing, but he says it this way, “Be doers of the word and not hearers only. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” Or more simply, practice what you preach.

One of the greatest dangers in the life of faith, I think, is to be enamored of Scripture, to love the teachings of the Church, to hold precious the words of Jesus – but, to act no differently than the rest of the world when we’re outside of a church building. This is also what Jesus is tackling in today’s Gospel. The Pharisees and Scribes are obsessed with the external observance of the Law, but their actions say something different. They were obsessed with rituals, but neglected the change of heart and life that those rituals hope to bring about in people – their actions are completely devoid of the love, compassion, and mercy that are the hallmarks of someone who truly knows and loves the Lord.

In today’s passage, the Pharisees allow the failure to ritually wash their hands keep them from sharing God’s Good News with the people who need to hear it. Jesus points out that it is not the purification of hands that will save them, but the purification of their souls.

Now, Jesus isn’t condemning ritual or doctrine, but asking if those practices in their lives are having an effect. It begs the same question in our lives: are our external practices the goal of our faith? Is our faith nothing more than attending Mass or praying rosaries? Or do these practices – and more – help us become the people God wants us to be, as James says, those who “care for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep [themselves] unstained by the world.” Have we become “Doers of the Word and not hearers only?”

If you are like me, you can’t help but hear these words today outside of the context of the scandal that we’re living through in the church today. After all, in so many ways, this scandal can be reduced to an example of failing to practice what we preach. For abusing clergy, there is certainly a disconnect between the life of holiness their vocation called them to and the horrific acts they committed. So too for those in leadership who failed address these situations with justice and with the care of the most vulnerable. Clergy abuse is so scandalous first because of the harm it has caused to victims; but secondly because these actions are the definition of failing to practice what we preach. We hold our clergy to high standard – as we should. Those who are ordained have pledged to live public lives in witness of the Gospel. These men who have failed, harm not only their victims, but they harm the church itself – they harm you and me by violating their promise to be images of Christ in our world. They create an image that is counter to what we profess as followers of Jesus. And the only way we will get through this current moment of crisis is by becoming more and more true to the call of Christ in our lives. To be doers of the word and not mere hearers. To practice what we preach in every aspect of our lives. And to call out those who fail to do so. When we practice what we preach, the innocent are protected, the guilty are prosecuted, and no one seeks to protect an abuser.

The church needs our faithful witness today more than ever. Our lives lived in harmony between what we say and what we do are the proclamation that calls the whole church to holiness. Our Scripture reminds us today that our faith should be obvious through the way we act in our world. That when people see the way we act, they will know immediately that we are follows of Christ; that our faith in Jesus has changed our lives.

St. James tells us, “Humbly welcome the word that has taken root in you. Act on it. Because if all you do is listen, you are deceiving yourselves.” In His Word and in His Holy Sacraments, Jesus gives us the strength to do what He asks. He gives us the strength to be a different kind of presence in the world – one that loves, one that shows compassion, one that reaches out, one that seeks justice – especially for those in most need. So, let us hear God’s Word again today and let that seed be planted in our hearts. Let us be strengthened again today by His Body and Blood so we can truly leave this place as “Doers of the Word of God….for that will save our souls.”

Or as St. Francis of Assisi put it, “Preach the Gospel at all times. When necessary, use words.” It will not only change us and make us more like Christ; it will change the church; it will change the world.

May the Lord give you peace.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Lord, to whom shall we go?


There was a story in the New York Times this week that really caught my attention. It was from a parish in Atlanta, Georgia, where the local priest there preached last weekend about the priest abuse scandal that has once again taken center stage. The priest there said, of course, the scandal was terrible and that the church had to change. Just as he was moving on from that topic, a man in the congregation stood up and said loudly, “Hey, Father! How?” The priest did not have much of an answer for the distraught man except to suggest that he write to his Bishop and the Pope and share his concerns.

When I read that story, I had two reactions to it. As you know, I too preached about the crisis and, calling upon the image of St. Francis, about our need to rebuild the church together. So, my first reaction was, “Oh, thank goodness that no one stood up and shouted here!” Both because it would be shocking to have someone in the congregation do that, but also because if they did, I’m not sure that I would have had an answer that was much better than the priest in Atlanta. My second reaction, though, when I stopped thinking about myself and how I would have felt on the spot, was to think, wow, how courageous of that man. He had the courage to stand up in front of his whole parish, to take ownership of his faith and call for change.

He wrote about that moment later in the week. He said, “I wouldn’t exist without Catholicism. It was the church’s own teachings that made me stand up on Sunday. Catholics are taught that it’s imperative to help others. We are told to protect the innocent. Aside from my own family, two institutions helped form my character: the Catholic Church and the Boy Scouts. Both encouraged me to stand up for what is right and to use our strength for those in need.” That story really struck me deeply and I have not been able to shake it. What would I say if someone challenged me that way? And, as I was reflecting on that question, I received an email from a parishioner. I’ll share a little bit of it with you, but not enough to give away who it came from. They wrote, “This is being sent to inform you of our decision to take a sabbatical from Saint Margaret’s and the Catholic Church. This has not been an easy decision in that both of us have been raised Catholics and have been parishioners for all our 56 years of marriage. But the on-going scandals and Rome's continued inaction has us doubting our continued attendance and financial support, so until or unless Pope Francis shows some sincere interest in response to this matter, we'll simply say goodbye for now. Our decision has nothing to do with Saint Margaret's and we wish you and all the parish the very best.”

I’ve been thinking and praying about how to respond to these members of our parish, and how I would respond if someone stood up in the middle of Mass. Here’s what I thought I might say but decided I’d like to run it by all of you first.

Dear parishioners, Since receiving your email I have been thinking and praying about how I should respond. First let me thank you and commend you for the courage to write to me this week. You could have simply vanished from the pews and we would never have known why. Please know that I hear your anger and frustration, and I share it. I, too, cannot believe that the church has not fully addressed these issues, especially in the 16 years since the scandal first came to broad attention. There simply is no excuse for that inaction. Change must happen.

You may have seen that Pope Francis issued a letter to the whole church this week, one that I hope you had the chance to read. In it he quite bluntly acknowledged the abuse of power by some members of the clergy, named our closeness to those who have been harmed, and pledged to take final and decisive action to get this right. It will be our job – all of us in the church – to make sure he and our bishops follows through on those words.

But, he also wrote, “We are never completely ourselves unless we belong to a people…The only way that we have to respond to this evil that is to experience it as a task regarding all of us as the People of God. Without the active participation of all the Church’s members, everything being done to uproot the culture of abuse in our communities will not be successful in generating the necessary dynamics for sound and realistic change.”

In other words, the Pope is saying, and I’m saying to you: We need you. The Church – even in its brokenness - needs you. We need you to stand by our side, to cry with us when we cry, to laugh with us when we laugh. We need you to pray with us and for us shoulder-to-shoulder every time we gather at Mass.

In our Gospel today, ironically, Jesus puts this very question to the disciples, “Do you also want to leave?” He places the question to us today as well. Do you want to leave? But, when we ponder leaving the church and giving up on her, hear the words of St. Peter today, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You alone have the words of everlasting life.” The disciples, too, were caught up in the scandal of the Eucharist. They could not understand Jesus’ teaching about His Body and Blood. But, they also knew that they could not leave their Lord.

You know, in the midst of my own reflection on this moment in the church this week, I found myself in many special places in addition to my usual duties: at the funeral of a dear friend who passed away this week who so deeply loved the Lord; later celebrating Mass in the nursing home and seeing the great joy that our Eucharistic Lord brought to the people there. I worked with music ministers excited to bring a unique vibrancy to our worship as we embark on our new Sunday evening Mass next week. I found myself gathered with a family around the bedside of a loved one in her final hours of life and the calmness that the presence of Jesus in the Anointing brought her and her family. I met with staff at our school excited for a new school year and the chance to teach our children in a faith-filled environment. I met with parishioners who want to make anonymous donations to fellow parishioners in need from the goodness of their hearts. In other words, I met Jesus over and over this week, and I met Him through good and faithful people like you.

So, my dear parishioners, I know the pain of your heart, the anger that you carry, and the desire to step away from the church, even if for a time. And, if that is your ultimate decision, I support and respect it.

But, more than that, I hope that you’ll stay. “Lord to whom shall we go? We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One from God.” If you love the church, remain within and work for her reform. Pray with us, cry with us, laugh with us, learn with us. Help us together make this the place where we find those words of everlasting life that only Jesus can offer. Stay and ask the Lord to lead us through this moment back into his glorious light.

If you’d like to talk about this more, I’m always available. Just let me know.

Lord, to whom shall we go? May the Lord give you peace.

With love and prayers, Fr. Tom.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Rebuild My Church!


More than 800 years ago, the Catholic church was caught up in the midst of perhaps the greatest scandal it had ever seen, a scandal that revolved largely around the clergy of that time. But into the midst of that scandal, one man, St. Francis of Assisi, the founder of the religious order that I belong to, received a miraculous message from Jesus speaking to him from a cross in a small chapel in the Italian countryside. From that cross, Jesus said, “Francis, rebuild my church which you can see is in ruins.” As we know, St. Francis responded to that command of the Lord and ushered in one of the greatest reforms the Church has ever seen, and one of the greatest ages of holiness in the long history of Christianity. St. Francis’ plan for reform was nothing more complicated than the simple belief that the Gospel can be lived; that the Gospel must be lived by all who profess it.

I have been thinking a lot about that story from the life of St. Francis, and that command of Jesus from the cross because as we know, this has been a rough week to be a Catholic in the United States. As the scandal of clergy abuse once again rears its ugly head – from the report out of Pennsylvania, to the story out of St. John’s Seminary in Boston, to the now-disgraced Cardinal McCarrick – this has been a week that challenges many of us as members of the Church. And it is particularly difficult because this is not the first time we have been here. Nearly 15 years ago this scourge first came to public attention and we were mortified that the very priests and bishops we hold in such high esteem could somehow be the perpetrators of such great crimes. We thought and we hoped and we prayed after that terrible moment that we had recognized our wrongs, purged our ranks, changed our ways, cared for those victimized, pledged to never let this happen again.

And yet, here we are – again. I speak today not only as a priest, not only as your pastor. I speak simply as a fellow Catholic in the pew next to you with you. I hear your and anger and I share your anger. And like you, I want to know, how do we move forward from this to be true to our call as a Church faithful to her Lord. Like you I have been on a roller coaster of emotions as these stories have played out in the media. We are angry and hurt. We are embarrassed that these stories are again in the headlines – and even more furious that after more than a decade of focus on the protection of children, the leadership of the church, despite the tremendous progress it has made, has still not yet handled this in a way that gives all of us the assurance that abuse will be rooted out no matter the cost.

These moments can be for those of us who remain faithful members of the Body of Christ disheartening and dispiriting. Among the most heartbreaking questions I have heard this week are the questions that ask, “Why should I even remain a Catholic?” There are two great tragedies that arise from this scandal. First and foremost are the innocent lives of young people that are damaged when those who are supposed to be models of faith and holiness violate their sacred trust. But, the second tragedy are those who lose their faith, lose their church because its leadership has proved unworthy of that trust.

In this moment, it is important that we do three things. First, we must support and pray for every victim of abuse. We must comfort them, help them in their pain, and seek out justice in their name. The second thing we need to do is to continue to make our voice heard to the leadership of the church – to our bishops, cardinals, and even the pope – that we as the people of God will not allow this scandal in any form, or to any degree, continue. We cannot rest until this scandal is truly in our past.

The third things we need to do is to remember why we are Catholic in the first place, and why it is so important that we remain. I don’t know about you, but I am not a Catholic because of any priest, bishop, or even pope. Let me offer a few reasons why, even in the midst of this scandal, we should not abandon our faith or our church.

The first reason is of course because of Jesus. In a profound way, that’s really the only answer. We are Catholic because of Jesus and we stay because of Jesus. We know what life is like without Him. Life without Jesus lacks meaningful purpose; it lacks true direction. We cannot imagine life without Jesus. And, yes, we can find Jesus outside of the church, but this is His church, the one He founded and the way He is present here is like no other place on earth. Jesus promised us that He would never abandon His church, he would never abandon us. God is so much bigger than this moment and ultimately it is our closeness to Jesus that will bring true healing.

When we experience Jesus True Presence in the Eucharist at Mass, or sit in front of the Blessed Sacrament, we get to experience God in a way that many people don’t. Not because of anything that we’ve done to deserve it, but because by God’s grace we know that it He is truly there in front of us. His presence is real. This is the same Jesus we encounter in the confessional who forgives our sins, every time treating us with tender mercy and compassion. It is this Jesus that welcomes the newborn in baptism, blesses couples who marry, who is by the side of the sick and dying as they breath their final breath. We stay because Jesus is present to us and good to us. Every single day, Jesus is good to us.

The second reason we are Catholic is because this is our home, our family. We were born into this family of faith and community of believers and our lives with Jesus are not solitary. It is a life that is lived with others, and it is through them – through you – that we encounter our Lord every day. We need each other. Just think of the ways that God invites us to be His presence through actions great and small. It is this home, this family, this community, that is the place we discover the presence of God in our lives, that we nurture that presence of God, and that we are invited to be the presence of God in our world.

Third, we remain Catholic because it is within this church that we find hope. Every day as our world tries to drag us into darkness, the church remains a beacon of light and hope that speaks words of life into the darkness of the world. It is here that the message is always that we are loved, that we are welcomed, that we are forgiven. It is here that the darkness comes to die as the light of Christ conquers all. Even the most hopeless situations become opportunities for goodness, holiness, and light. And it is that hope that tells us that even in the midst of scandal, love, justice, and mercy will prevail – that our church can and will heal.

We remain Catholic because we know in the depths of our hearts that even despite her failings, we can’t live without the Church. She is our home and our family; she is our beacon in the storm, and our light in the darkness. She is the place where we encounter God most profoundly and discover who we are in God’s sight. And as St. Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You alone have the words of everlasting life.” We need the Church and the Church needs each one of us.

A man came across three masons who were chipping granite from large blocks. He asked the first what he was doing. He responded, “I’m just hammering this stupid rock.” He approached the second with the same question. He said, “Well, I’m molding this block so it can be used to construct a wall.” He approached the third, who said proudly, “I am building a cathedral!”

My friends, in the midst of scandal, we too can feel as though we’re just hammering away for no good reason. But we must always remember that for we who believe – even in the midst of our brokenness – that resurrection is always the final chapter of our story. Let us hear the words that Jesus spoke to Francis as He speaks them now again to us and rebuild this cathedral that is the church – a cathedral made not of stone and mortar, but build of living stones – built of you and me; built of love and kindness; compassion and mercy; healing and holiness and strength. And let us rebuild it the same way Francis did, by embracing the Gospel in everything we do, and calling our brothers and sisters – all the way up to our bishops and pope – to build this cathedral with us, so we can once and for all leave this scandal behind. It is time to rebuild again – together. Will you build it with me?

May the Lord give you peace.

Saturday, August 4, 2018

What are you hungry for?


A priest friend of mine tells a story of a time a few years ago when he was asked to preside at a very fancy wedding in Rhinebeck, New York. The wedding was as lavish as you would imagine, with all the bells and whistles. After the ceremony, he went to the reception to lead the guests in grace before the meal. The reception was held on the grounds of a grand mansion under a beautiful tent. Laid out before the guests was the most sumptuous buffet you could imagine. There was a large table as long as the eye could see with an ice sculpture in the middle, and arrayed around it were piles of lobsters, shrimp, and shellfish of every kind. As he was about to say the prayer, the shy little flower girl stood by his side trying to see what was on the table. The girl asked what was going on and Father explained that everyone was getting ready to enjoy all the delicious food. The little girl then stepped on her tip-toes to get a better look at the table. She saw all of the lobsters, shrimp, and everything else and said, “But, when does the good food come out? When do they bring out the Fruit loops?”

We find ourselves today in the midst of a four-week cycle that invites us to reflect upon the incredible gift of the Eucharist. Last week we saw the multiplication of loaves and fishes; next week Jesus tells us that He is “the bread of life;” and the week after that He will remind us that whoever eats His flesh and drinks His blood “has eternal life.” While these weeks focus naturally on the material of the Eucharist – this bread from Heaven, this manna in the desert, this flesh and blood – today reminds us that there is more to eating than food. Jesus said, “Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.” In other words, Jesus is asking a simple question, and it’s the same one really that the flower girl was asking: what do we hunger for?

Jesus offers us the most incredible food ever – a food that feeds not merely the body for a moment, but the soul for eternity; but he wants to know if this is what we want to eat. We know that we are faced with many competing hungers – things that get in the way of God like hungers for wealth, power, material goods, or popularity; and of course other hungers that come from God like the hunger for love, truth, holiness, happiness, and everlasting life. In our Gospel, Jesus addresses this issue with those who pursued Him after the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves that we heard last week. He wants to know – are they merely seeking signs and wonders? Do they just want more bread? Are they simply hungry for things which satisfy the body today or are they really hungry for what matters – the things that can satisfy the heart and soul? Jesus echoes the question posed by the prophet Isaiah: “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?”

We are reminded that only God can satisfy the spiritual hunger in our heart and soul – the hunger for truth, for holiness, for completeness, for wholeness, for happiness, and for love. So, what are we hungry for? Jesus wants us to be hungry for a life of love and service, the kind of service He modeled during His time among us. He wants us to be hungry for forgiveness that connects us to God's mercy and kindness. He wants us to be hungry for a life of holiness and purity that reflects God's own holiness. And, He wants us to be hungry for a life of obedience to God’s will and trust in God’s plan for our lives, which gives witness to the wisdom of God. In other words, we are called as St. Augustine said to “become what we receive.” This is what the Eucharist is all about – not that we merely consume the Body and Blood of Jesus today, but that we become it; that we become Christ in our world, to one another; that we become what we receive today.

It all comes down to that question we began – what are we hungry for? Are we hungry to be fed on the bread that the world offers? That is a false bread, and will only satisfy for a moment but leaves us ultimately incomplete. Or do we hunger for the bread that comes from heaven; the miraculous bread-become-Body and wine-become-Blood made present in our midst on this altar? Do we thirst for the words of everlasting life?

The crowd we see in today’s Gospel clamor for Jesus not because they want holiness and eternal life; they just want more bread. They want to make him a mere king who fills the stomach. But Jesus chastises them for missing the opportunity before them: “You are looking for me not because you saw signs but because you ate the loaves and were filled.” Because of this, Jesus hid away from them. He did not want to be identified primarily with feeding stomachs. He wanted to be seen as One who has come to nourish the human spirit with the food that satisfies every hunger of the human heart, the food that does not perish but that gives life eternally.

The Lord wants to know today, what do we hunger for? Do we hunger for Him and Him alone? He is ready to feed us once again today and everyday. Are we hungry for what only Jesus can give?

“I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.”

May the Lord give you peace.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Do YOU believe in miracles?


It can be hard to pick the greatest moment in sports history. Some people might name Michael Phelps record number of gold medals making him the greatest athlete in Olympic history. Definitely, the Red Sox 2004 World Series victory ending an 86 year curse is way towards the top of the list. But, I think, for me, the greatest moment would have to be the 1980 winter Olympics when the U.S. hockey team defeated the dominant Soviet hockey team for the gold medal. This rag-tag group of American amateurs handed a major upset to the seasoned Soviet team who were expected to easily win gold. As I recall that moment you can probably still hear the voice of broadcaster Al Michaels as he shouted out, “Do you believe in miracles? Yes!” The U.S. hockey team in that moment accomplished what seemed to be the impossible and we still refer to this moment as the “Miracle on Ice.” I still get choked up watching the last 30 seconds of that game.

Of all of the great moments in sports history, this is probably the only one that ever asked a theological question – do you believe in miracles? – and gave the right answer – YES! Now, of course, in the proper theological sense this was not a miracle, even though it was spectacular, but the question uttered at the end of that game speaks to us today – Do YOU believe in miracles?

We know that our secular world often makes no room for miracles or spiritual realities and is instead limited only to what can be observed and verified. We are taught to be skeptical when things seem too good to be true. Today's Gospel is a good example. Some look at today’s story of the feeding of the 5,000 with skepticism. Skeptical Bible scholars pose questions about whether or not Jesus actually fed that many people. Maybe the miracle is that everyone shared, they say. But our eyes of faith open us to the possibility that God does indeed accomplish miracles in our midst. Faith tells us that Jesus did feed a multitude, Jesus did heal countless people who were ill, Jesus did cast demons out of the possessed, He did raise the official’s daughter and His friend Lazarus from the dead, Jesus did Himself rise from the dead, and He perhaps closer to our own experience – Jesus does offer us His real Body and Blood in the Eucharist, the forgiveness of our sins, and so much more. These things are all spectacular, and beyond the ordinary, but we believe because our faith convinces us that with God anything, in fact, everything is possible.

In our passage today, John mentions two disciples by name: Philip and Andrew. In this passage, they represent these two types of faith. Philip is the skeptic, not ready to accept a miracle. To the problem of all these hungry people Philip responds, “Two hundred days' wages worth of food would not be enough for each of them to have a little,” he says.

Andrew’s faith, on the other hand, makes room for miracles and so he becomes a partner in one with Jesus. Andrew says, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish.” Now, Andrew was realistic enough to know that five loaves and two fish were nothing before a crowd of more than 5,000, yet he had enough faith to see that it was enough for a start. His faith helped him to see that possibility, to know that miracles build on nature. Perhaps Andrew remembered the marriage feast at Cana where Jesus turned water into wine. Jesus didn’t make wine out of nothing at Cana; He made it from something – the water presented to Him. Andrew understood that it’s the disciple’s job to provide the basic something which Jesus in His love would then transform, like water into wine; or that He could multiply, like bread and fish to feed a hungry crowd. Expectant faith does not make us fold our hands, do nothing, and simply look to heaven. Rather it encourages us to make our best contribution – our five loaves and two fish – knowing that without it there would be no miracle. You see, a miracle is not God working for us; it is God working with us and through us, and in turn us working with God.

A skeptic looks at the feeding of 5,000 and says, “That probably didn’t really happen.” But the person of faith looks and says, “5,000 people is that all? Jesus has been miraculously feeding millions, even billions of people through his Body and Blood at Mass for over 2,000 years.” Have you ever stopped to realize that you and I are part of the greatest miracle of multiplication each and every time we worship? Jesus spoke those words once, 2,000 years ago, “This is my body. This is my blood,” and the Eucharist continues to be multiplied in our presence since then.

Jesus continues to multiply that meager offering every time we gather for the Eucharist. At every Mass we simply offer Him some bread and wine to work with, and for more than 2,000 years He continually transforms that into His very Body and Blood; His real and abiding presence in our midst. So, we should believe in miracles, not only because we have faith, but also because we have eyes that see it at every Mass, hands that touch and hold and receive, and bodies that consume that miraculous bread become Body over and over again. The Eucharist is the most incredible miraculous feeding of the multitude in history – and it is still going on!

God needs us to do our part and whatever we do, He will multiply, He will transform – often with miraculous results. Henry Ford once said, "Whether you think you can or not, you are right." The same is true of our ability to be a force of change in the world. Believers, by believing, open their lives to miracles. Skeptics block their chances of experiencing a miracle. If we truly believe that Jesus did heal, did cast out demons, did raise people from the dead, did offer the Eucharist, did rise from the dead Himself – if we believe that, just imagine what He will do in our lives and through our lives if we’re open to Him.

Jesus is just waiting to let a miracle happen through our own faith in Him. Jesus often said, “According to your faith will it be done to you.” Let us pray today and everyday to have the expectant faith of Andrew, to be open to what God wants to do in our lives. Let us today and always bring our meager offering to the Lord with the certainty that He can change it, multiply it, transform it into a miracle. Through our faith, truly miraculous things will happen.

May the Lord give you peace.

The end is near!!

HOMILY FOR THE 33rd SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, November 18, 2018: Two priests were fishing on the side of the road one day. They thoughtfull...